the weblog of Alan Knox

The Church Covenant

Posted by on Aug 22, 2008 in discipline, members | 14 comments

I wrote this blog post back in January 2007 (“The Church Covenant“). I realize that church covenants are often “hot button” issues. However, I’m concerned about the way that church covenants are often used today to separate the body of Christ into exclusive, isolated groups. In many churches, believers only consider themselves responsible for caring for those who are part of their “covenanted community”. Yet, in Scripture, being “covenanted” with another believer is never even mentioned. We are members of the same family and thus are responsible for one another. I hope you enjoy this article.

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The Church Covenant

As a child of God, I am in covenant with God – the New Covenant. This is a covenant that he made with me, that he secures, and that he regulates. He sets the responsibilities and duties for this covenant. He also determines the blessings of this covenant. In ethical terms, this is a “political covenant” as opposed to a “social covenant”.

Our church (that is, the church that our family meets with regularly) also has a covenant. Each person who desires to “join” our church covenants with one another.

Now, church covenants can be a very good thing. Church covenants can remind us of the responsibilities and duties that we have toward one another: responsibilities and duties that are given to all believers by God. In fact, Scripture speaks frequently of these requirements. Most of them include the phrase “one another”: love one another, accept one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, etc.

However, church covenants can have a detrimental effect on believers. Many times church covenants are used to separate the church into exclusive groups.

For example, I was recently asked if I felt that I was responsible for meeting the needs of a believer who was not part of “our church”. (Note, this was not asked by someone who was a part of our church.) I answered, “If God reveals a need to me, and provides the means to meet that need, then I am responsible for meeting that need, whether or not that person is a member of our church.” The other person disagreed with me. Why? Because I was not “covenanted” with the other believer. According to this person, I was only responsible for those with whom I was “covenanted”.

Also, the idea of “covenant” is sometimes suggested as a limit to church discipline. A person is only responsible for “disciplining” a believer if he or she belongs to the same church, i.e. they are covenanted together.

In these two examples, the “church covenant” is used as a means of separating the church into mutually exclusive groups.

However, I cannot find an example in Scripture of one believer being “covenanted” with another believer. Every Christian is in covenant with God, and because of the New Covenant, we have responsibilities, some of which describe how we should relate to other believers. In Scripture, these responsibilities are not limited to certain believers. Yes, I understand that I cannot carry out these responsibilities toward people that I have never met. I am not arguing for that. Instead, I am arguing that we are responsible for how we relate to all believers that God brings across our path, not just those believers with whom we share membership.

I enjoy reading the church covenant with our church. It reminds me of the responsibilities that God has placed on me… but not just toward certain believers… toward all believers.


14 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-22-2008

    This has been something I struggled with for about 5 years and you make some good points. Can I ask though what may be an odd question?

    You mention how the Bible does not say anything about making covenants.

    Okay, so here is my question. Where in the Bible does it say or even mention that the church read the New Testament on a regular basis? I ask because in the past months you have talked about the studies your church does on Sundays going through books in the NT. At the same time, you often discuss how we should do what the early church did.

    So obviously you see where I am heading with this and I don’t intend it as a trick question. I am just interested in reading how you approach this issue of why some things not modeled by the NT church are acceptable and why others are not. Does that make sense Alan?

    I feel my thoughts may be a bit jumbled here, but I sure would love to have you help me think through this issue.

  2. 8-22-2008

    Interesting post Alan. Just explain a bit more why you have entered into a political covenant and not a social one.

    I ask because the aspect of a social covenant appears on face value to be exactly what the community of Christ is joined by.

    I am more than in agreement with you on the issue of building barriers with the exclusivity of some church covenants.

  3. 8-22-2008

    Hey Joe,

    Paul charges Timothy with this:

    13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

    It would seem that at least Ephesus would have heard exhortation through the reading of scripture.

  4. 8-22-2008

    Hey Joe,

    I would also say that they read the NT quite a bit as they received letters from Paul, read them then passed them along. They may have not know they were scriptures but they definitely were reading them and being read to.

  5. 8-22-2008

    I’m quite sure that I would have disagreed with you a few years ago. But not so anymore. It seems to me that we, as believers, should be asking, “who is my neighbor?” rather than “with whom am I covenanted (which, as you suggest, often separates people into exclusive groups)?”

    Thanks for this post.

  6. 8-22-2008

    Yes Lionel, but hat was in reference to the Old Testament. There was no written Scripture hat we call New Testament. so since Alan, and all of us, read the NT and study it in our churches, why?

    I think you second post is closer so I agree that the churches probably read them, but we take select portions of letters and study them verse by verse. Alan gives some examples of that here on his blog. My point is, that much of what we do is rooted in our culture and tradition and there is nothing unbiblical about that unless is distorts the Gospel in some way.

    I agree church covenants or membership has created some divide and when it does, there is a distortion of the Gospel. However, I think that they can be important in our individualistic culture.

    This weekend I am teaching a class during our camp-out called, beyond membership. The goal here is to say that we are all members of the church by the death and resurrection of Christ, but being the church takes more than membership, it takes a devotion and commitment to one another like a Family. I am not a fan of people signing “covenants” or doing gimmicky stuff like that. But reminding people that being a disciple of Jesus is a covenant relationship is something foreign to our culture and must be taught.

    In short, I think we agree for the most part Alan, but saying, “the NT church did not do it” is for me a thin argument.

  7. 8-22-2008

    J.R.,

    I’m having a difficult time seeing where you and Alan disagree. In this post Alan mentions the Church Covenant that he has with the local group that he meets with. He even says he enjoys reading it because it reminds him of the responsibilities that he has toward each member of Christ’s body.

    In your latest comment you said, “In short, I think we agree for the most part Alan, but saying, ‘the NT church did not do it’ is for me a thin argument.” Perhaps I am reading Alan’s writings wrong, but I don’t see Alan arguing anything like “They didn’t do it, so we shouldn’t” – Is that what you are seeing?

    Alan made these comments in the post:
    “church covenants can be a very good thing.”
    “Scripture speaks frequently of these requirements.”
    “church covenants can have a detrimental effect on believers.”
    “I cannot find an example in Scripture of one believer being ‘covenanted’ with another believer. Every Christian is in covenant with God, and because of the New Covenant, we have responsibilities, some of which describe how we should relate to other believers.”
    “I enjoy reading the church covenant with our church.”

    And in your last comment you mentioned teaching a class called “beyond membership” which seems to promote the same idea that I see Alan promoting in this post.

    Maybe I am misreading you as well, but I am having a difficult time seeing how you two disagree here :).

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

    The Pursuit Online Store

  8. 8-22-2008

    Lew, you may have answered my question. I do think Alan and I agree close to 100% on most issues, we just tend to write using different terminology.

    Regarding your post, I was wanting feedback on the very issue you narrowed it down to. Excellent. However, the phrase I was keying my question off of was this one written by Alan in the opening paragraph, “Yet, in Scripture, being “covenanted” with another believer is never even mentioned. ” How do you understand this statement?

    Since I don’t recall interacting with you before today Lew, let me say that I sometimes ask questions here that may seem obvious only because I like to read the answers from Alan and others whose opinion I respect. I am an external thinker and asking the “obvious” sometimes helps me to process my own thoughts better.

    Hope that makes sense.

  9. 8-22-2008

    J.R.,

    I like to think of myself as a very “plain” guy… what I mean is I try to read things “plainly”. I try to do this most with the Bible and then work my way down from there. So when Alan said, “Yet, in Scripture, being ‘covenanted’ with another believer is never even mentioned.” I took that statement to mean that in Scripture there is no mention of one believer being covenanted with another (or given the context with a group). The rest of the context of Alan’s post suggested to me that we DO have a responsbility with other believers (potentially all believers, even). The covenant that we do have is with God, and this covenant is what reveals to us our responsibility to other believers. Of course, I could be wrong and if that is not Alan’s intent, than I would expect him to correct me :).

    I took a few clues from your two comments, especially the first when you said that you have been wrestling with this for quite some time and that your thoughts felt a bit jumbled to assume that maybe you were looking for some more interaction with this subject and not being divisive or argumentative. I appreciate your clarification, and hope that you can come to a solid conviction regarding this matter. I tend to be a little more extreme than Alan when it comes to covenants (and probably everything else). But I agree with his post and seemingly I agree with your comments :).

    It was good interacting with you. I am here often, but usually hiding in the background.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  10. 8-22-2008

    Joe (J.R.),

    I’m glad that you, Lionel, and Lew continued this discussion. I would not have understood your earlier comments without the later explanations.

    You said, “I am just interested in reading how you approach this issue of why some things not modeled by the NT church are acceptable and why others are not.” I’ll try to explain my approach briefly.

    We should do what is commanded in Scripture. We should not do what is prohibited in Scripture. If Scripture does not mention something (i.e. reading the NT or having church covenants), then they are allowed as long as the practice does not break another principle of Scripture.

    In the case of “church covenants”, I think they are allowed (although not necessary) as long as they are not practiced in a way that divides the body of Christ.

    I agreed with everything that you said in your comments.

    Chris (UR Man CD),

    A “social covenant” is a covenant made between equal parties. A “political covenant” is one made by a superior party to a lower party. Thus, our covenant with God is a “political covenant”. Perhaps there are other terms for “political” and “social” covenants, but these are the terms that learned.

    Lionel,

    Actually, the text of the Timothy passage says simply “reading”. English translation add the word “Scripture” as an interpretation. However, I do agree that reading Scripture (OT) seems to be inferred. And, Paul encouraged the churches to read his letters. We now only have to define “Scripture” today… :)

    I’m glad that you, Lionel, and Joe discussed this post between yourselves. It helped me understand all of your points.

    Mary,

    I would have strongly disagreed with myself a few years ago also. I’m learning to be more graceful with those who disagree with me now, because I may agree with them soon. :)

    Lew,

    Yes, you understood me correctly. Like I told Lionel and Joe, I’m glad that the three of you discussed this issue today. It was very informative for me as well.

    -Alan

  11. 8-22-2008

    Alan, I am with you absolutely 100% in your summary of how you approach the Scripture. Thanks for taking the time to understand my rambling post and responding brother.

  12. 9-14-2008

    To the question of the study of New Testament Scriptures:

    Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”

    Col.4:16 “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”

    1Thess 5:27 “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”

    Rev. 1:3 “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

    To not forming covenants other than the one with Christ, which of course then bonds each to the rest of His Body the Church:

    Ephesians 4:4 “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

    Romans 1:12 “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”

    Romans 16 the whole chapter is chalk a block full of folks that the receivers of the letter were supposed to greet and participate with.

    1 Corinthians 1:12-17 Speaks to not attaching ourselves to any one but Christ and through Christ we belong to the Body.

    1 Cor. 16:15-20 but especially “to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it,” is laid smack down in the midst of greeting and helping believers all over the place not just one pocket of “specialized covenanted Christians”

    We do not need, because they are detrimantal and unnecessary, any covenant other than the one to Christ. That covenant (the Good News) tells you that you are to take care of, care about, exhort, encourage, those with whom you fellowship daily and not so daily.

    Like signing a purity covenant, because once we become his we have already signed up for purity, we need not do it again as if we do not understand or take seriously what he says when we first come to Him. Otherwise we could be signing covenants for this and that all over the place and not just letting our yes be yes and our no be no.

  13. 9-14-2008

    Oh by the way, I enjoyed what you wrote and the questions you raised. The above was by no means a criticism, I am in no postition to criticize. Guess I should have started with this statement.

  14. 9-14-2008

    Lanny,

    Thanks for the comment. Feel free to comment any time – even if it is criticism.

    -Alan